In a special series called “Taking Charge: How to Manage Your Credit,” NBC News takes an in-depth look at Americans and credit card debt. NBC correspondent Peter Alexander begins reporting with the cold hard facts about that holiday spending hangover.
In Guilford, Vt., the Williams family took the spirit of giving further than they could afford.
"I think Santa was really good to the kids. We opened presents for quite a while Christmas morning," says Dad, Michael.
After numerous last-minute purchases, most of them put on plastic, Barbara and her husband, like 115 million Americans, are now sorting through a staggering number of bills — deeper in debt than before the season began.
"We gotta stop! We’re starting to mortgage our kids' future at this point. Neither one of us has a habit of saying ‘No!’ to them," says Michael.
What's in your wallet may be to blame.
With more that 600 million credit cards in circulation, the average family is carrying well over $7000 in credit card debt. In total, Americans owe almost $800 billion."
Industry experts admit it can be intimidating but manageable if consumers chart out their long road to recovery.
“You have to look at where you'll be three months from now, six months from now, and a year from now. Otherwise your financial hangover will turn into a financial disaster that will stay with you for years to come," says Karen Gross of the Coalition for Consumer Bankruptcy Debtor Education
Consider this: If you put $1000 on a credit card with an 18 percent interest rate and pay the minimum amount due each month you'll need roughly six years to pay off the debt.
With gifts in hand and buying sprees behind them the Williams family is now taking steps to straighten out its finances.
“We're looking at the year-end thing and getting ready to do the taxes at the beginning of the year, and it's like, ‘This is just insane! We've gotta stop being this way!’ It's finally just recognizing the pattern," says Michael.
A pattern of paying with plastic they're resolving not to repeat next year.